Review: My first week with the iPad Mini

Even though I’m an “IT guy,” I’ve never been a believer in “technology for the sake of technology.” Before I buy a device, I have to understand how it’s going to fit in with my life and be sure I’m going to use it. I’ve seen far too many clients become hooked on buying shiny gadgets that never get properly exploited.

As such, it’s taken a very long time to convince myself that I really need an iPad. There’s been one in the house before, as my wife had one as part of her job, so I’ve hardly been blind to their desirability, but with an iPhone and MacBook Pro already in my possession, I needed some strong justification.

It came in the form of my signing up to do a degree course via distance learning. The course requires me to read a lot of online content, which is ergonomically awkward on a laptop and impractical on a smartphone. So I finally had the excuse I needed, and went out and purchased a 32GB iPad Mini.

The White iPad Mini

First Impressions

Let’s face it, nobody’s ever disappointed when they take home a box containing new Apple hardware, and the iPad Mini is no different. However, I didn’t fawn over the sleek silver back for long, as I placed it straight into a protective rear cover and clipped on Apple’s own magnetic cover and stand combo.

How the device worked was obviously no surprise either; we’re essentially talking about a big iPhone that’s not a phone, but I was pleased that I didn’t feel myself badly missing a retina display. However, I did notice (and continue to notice) that the touch control isn’t quite as precise as that on my iPhone. It’s not bad at all, but I do sometimes find it hard to tap small “x” icons, especially when they’re near the top right corner of the screen.

Daily Use

As I said above, I was far more interested to find how the iPad slotted into my life than in investigating every feature available to me. After all, most of the functionality is already available on my iPhone.

The first point to make is that it’s given me a greater sense of separation between my working day and my evening. As I work from home, it’s easy to find myself still on my MacBook as darkness falls, in a strange kind of half work / half play limbo. Now I have the iPad, I’m more likely to close the laptop when the work is done, and switch to the iPad. This is a good thing, as it’s a far more sociable way to use technology.

As part of this, I took the decision not to sync my email accounts and calendars with the iPad, supporting its role as a leisure and study device and not a business device.

Despite the separation, the iPad is such a pleasure to use, it’s kept me up long into the night on a couple of occasions: once simply playing around with apps, including DJ software, games and music tools, and the other reading a recommended text for my university course that I found instantly available to me via iBooks.

I’ve also enjoyed being able to take the Traktor DJ app to a house party, resulting in a usable casual DJ setup, all in a package weighing 308 grams.

Conclusion

I’ll be honest: I really should have splashed out on an iPad sooner. There really is room for another gadget between laptop and smartphone, even if both of the other gadgets can technically fulfill every purpose.

The beauty of the iPad Mini is in its form factor. When we had a full size iPad in the house, I rarely used it for prolonged Web browsing as it simply wasn’t that comfortable. The iPad Mini is perfect in this respect and very pleasing to use, even with just one hand.

If you’re struggling to justify buying an iPad, it’s time to give in. I promise you won’t regret it.

How to add Bluetooth audio to your car for under $20

bluetooth-logoIf you are like me, you like listening to content from your phone or MP3 player in your car while traveling. If you don’t have built-in Bluetooth in your car, there are several options for adding it. You can use a cassette adapter (if your car has a cassette deck), an 8mm audio cable (basically a headphone jack, if your car supports it), you can listen through an FM transmitter, or you can listen straight through the device if your device has decent speakers.

In my car I have an audio jack. This method works great, but I hate have to use the cable to go from my phone to the jack. It just gets in the way of everything.

I am happy to report there is another solution for those of us with an audio jack in the car that can be purchased for under $20: the Zehui Wireless Car Bluetooth Music Receiver. It’s a small Bluetooth receiver that plugs into the audio jack (yes, your device has to have Bluetooth for this to work). These devices play the audio from your phone or music player through your car speakers without being hindered by a cable!

I am guessing this is a generic product because Amazon carries several items under different brand names with identical pictures, so I just settled on the cheapest one. There are other name brands that are more money and look different, but I figured I’d try the cheaper route first.

Image screenshot from Amazon.com product listing
Image screenshot from Amazon.com product listing

Surprisingly, this little device works great! It is a little tricky to figure out how it works, especially since the instructions were awful, but once I got it going it is a great addition to my car. Best of all it has a very small footprint. It is about 1″ x 2″ and just sticks right out of the jack in my car. I turn it on when I want to use it and it connects right to my iPhone. The sound quality is great and I can control the volume through the phone or the car. The battery life is at least eight hours.

My family recently took a vacation which involved three hours in the car each direction. My son sat in the back watching the iPad and listening through the car speakers. No more annoying cable from the iPad to the front of the car.

Like I said earlier, there are other brands for more money, but why spend it if you don’t have to? This little device is a great addition to any car with an audio jack. If you have an audio jack in your car and a bluetooth capable device I highly recommend checking out a Bluetooth audio receiver for your vehicle. You’ll be happy you did.

Google Nexus 7 tablet: The specs drill-down

Not long ago, Apple took the full impact of the tech limelight by releasing the iPhone 5 and their next generation iPads. Its competitors, with one such example being Google, had earlier announced a branded 7-inch tablet, the Google Nexus 7.

In the making of the $200 tablet, Google knew that they had to beat the redefined hardware specification set by the iPad and the Amazon-made Kindle Fire. Other than worrying about specifications, they also had to redeem the tarnished reputation of Android OS as a tablet operating system.

To offset the hardware struggle, Asus adopts the normal glossy and black-beveled display characteristic to most tablets. To make it stand out, the designers ringed the display with a matte rigid silver band and covered the back with some soft-touch material with that comfortable feel of taut leather.

Measuring 7.8 inches tall by 4.7 inches wide, the Google Nexus 7 tablet weighs 0.74 pounds making it 0.16 pounds lighter than the kindle Fire. Additionally, the tablet is 0.41 inches thick making it thicker than the trending iPad by a mere 0.04 inch.

Past the bezel on the front that eats up some screen size while giving you some place to grip and the adhering smudge resistant back, is a quad-core Tegra 3 CPU with processing speeds of up to 1.15GHz on all cores and 1.3GHz when running a single core. The Tegra 3 CPU works with 1GB of RAM and normal user storage capacity being 8GB with an option of paying $50 for a 16GB version. In this case, the company’s pre-installed internal storage strictly dictates the amount of data you can keep on the Nexus 7 since it has no microSD slot. To compensate for this, the tablet features Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, a GPS chip, gyroscope, compass, accelerometer and the much-coveted NFC capability.

The tightly sealed tablet (the tablet’s back panel is not removable at all) features a 1.2-megapixel front facing camera that comes in handy when holding Google+ Hangouts, a rear speaker and built-in microphones.

Performance is improved by the Android 4.1 operating system and “Project Butter” that works to improve touch response and the smooth floor of Android apps. Though high speed scrolling still brings the Galaxy Nexus snap-back effect, apps load fast enough and the Tegra Chipset does a good job in rendering 3D games.

The Google Nexus 7 display power does not in any way let down its internal hardware capabilities. It features a 1280×800 corning glass-covered LCD display with an impressive 216ppi count. Though colors look a bit off compared to Galaxy Nexus Super AMOLED display, text and images are crisp and clear enough making the gadget completely favorably with the new iPad.

Battery life is within the ranges expected for such a performer. With brightness tied to 65 percent while loading web pages, the battery stays for roughly six hours though heavy use of the monster CPU will drastically reduce this.

Samsung and Google create the ultimate mobile companion for cloud enthusiasts

In the world of technology, we invent and or create some things, and that becomes the end of the story. We sometimes invent and create, but some consumers just do not like the results. There is a breed of innovations, however, that sell out even before they are actually unveiled to the public. Since their introduction into the market, the ChromeBooks have taken to the side as a not widely accepted innovation but in the eyes of many, the new Samsung Chromebook 2012 is the ultimate game changer.

Unlike its Intel Celeron powered predecessors, the dual-core ARM driven Chromebook comes with an 11.6-inch display and 6.5-hour battery life compressed in an impressively compact design, all at only $249.

By trashing Intel Celeron processors in favor of the ARM, Samsung designers packed the new Chromebook with higher power while reducing production cost, power consumption and heat dissipation. Actually, the Chromebook goes to record as the first ever retail device to use the Cortex-A15 technology.

This silver-colored 2.4 pound ChromeBook has a better touchpad with the ability to interpret two-finger scrolling input using the accompanying buttons that are somewhat loud when clicked. Though good for the design, the fact that they decided to put all the ports at the back of the ChromeBook, apart from the headphone jack, can be a real pain for users who are constantly plugging things into their computer.

Since the ChromeBook is specifically built for online use through the Google Chrome browser, its matte display makes sense since the essence of a mobile device is to cancel out the possibility of squinting past your reflection to read what is on the screen. However, the reduced brightness of 200 units compared to the predecessor’s 300, means that you will have to get the right angle before settling back to use the Chromebook.

Generally, by opting for the new Chromebook, you pay $201 less and get a lighter and thinner laptop, which is actually more portable. However, you will have to kiss ethernet and the now optional 3G radio goodbye in favor of the in-built Bluetooth.

The new Chromebook is a great deal for people who live on the cloud. It has a practical keyboard and its browsing experience is awesome. What else would you possibly need to navigate the cloud?

Game review: Hero Academy

If you know me, you know I’m a picky gamer. I don’t play a lot of games, but that’s not because I don’t like gaming — I just can never find a game that I enjoy long enough to stick with it. Hero Academy, a turn-based strategy game on iOS and Windows, just made its way to Steam, and it’s got me hooked. Let’s dive in together to see what makes this game so great.

Gameplay

Hero Academy is sort of like chess, in the sense that you have different “chess pieces” that do different things, and there’s a certain kind of strategy that you have to keep in mind that’s similar to how you would strategize in chess. Hero Academy consists of five different characters (or “units”) and a wealth of different items like shields, swords, and helmets that you can use to upgrade your units, as well as one-time-use items like health potions, fireballs, and boosts.

You get 25 of a mixture of units and items per game, but only have access to five at a time. When you use them up, you get new units/items to replace the ones you used until all 25 are used up. Look at it as a deck of cards with a five-card hand.

Each player gets five moves per turn, and you can use those moves however you like. You can do a mixture of moving and attacking, or spend a turn simply building up your army for a major attack later in the game. You can even spend a move swapping an item in your hand for something else that’s waiting in the queue, in case you’re dealt a crappy hand.

The goal of the game is to either destroy all of your opponents’ units or destroy their jewel — whichever comes first. The game board includes special squares that give you certain boosts when one of your units lands on them. These include different types of increased attack power and defense strength.

Misc. features

All users receive the Council “starter” team when they begin playing Hero Academy. You can buy different teams (Dark Elves, Dwarves, Tribe, and the Team Fortress 2 team) for a few bucks per team. All the teams are relatively balanced, so there’s no real big advantage to using the paid teams other than having different characters besides the default ones — every team has roughly the same type of units that do the same thing with the same amount of power. Some units on the paid teams do things that other teams can’t, but there’s usually a trade-off  for those units.

Availability and pricing

Hero Academy is available on Steam for $4.99 and on iOS as a free, ad-supported download. When you buy the Steam version, you get the Team Fortress 2 team for free, along with the Council starter team. Sadly, the TF2 team isn’t available to purchase on iOS, but you can still buy the other teams for $1.99 each (removing the game’s ads while you do so) and get different avatar packs ($0.99 each) as well.

Conclusion

In a word, Hero Academy is addictive. Any game that allows you to play against your friends usually has a great lasting appeal, and Hero Academy has that and much more. The chess-like strategy mixed with the different attack items makes the game a unique title that a lot of casual gamers will enjoy.

Apple OS X Mountain Lion – First Impressions

You don’t have to look very hard on the Internet to find reviews of Mountain Lion, Apple’s new revision of the OS X operating system.

This review is slightly different. As a cynical, old school techie, I’m never particularly wowed by or interested in sparkly new features. All that really concerns me is exactly how upgrading my Mac’s operating system will affect my day-to-day computing life. So, that is the angle I’m coming from with this report.

On Early Adoption

I had a bad experience when I upgraded from Snow Leopard to Lion. Lion slowed down my laptop and, initially, I cursed myself for being an early adopter. I should qualify this by saying that after installing a few OS revisions and upgrading my RAM to 8GB, I was once again perfectly happy with the performance of my MacBook Pro.

With this previous experience in mind, I’m not really sure why I jumped at Mountain Lion so soon after release, but a contributing factor was that the Mac forums gave me little to worry about. Many people reported performance improvements and nobody seemed to be complaining about anything of significance. So, after a good cleanup of my applications and files, I crossed my fingers and hit the download button.

Installation and Getting Started

The installation itself made me doubt my bold decision, especially as I went for an upgrade install rather than the “clean installation” that many people champion. During the installation process, the progress bar seemed to stall many times, and once the remaining time went down to “under a minute” it stayed there for over half and hour while I wore down my fingernails and cursed myself for being an early adopter once again.

My blood pressure didn’t go down after the first successful boot either. My Mac was horrifically slow at first, but this turned out to be due to the Spotlight search facility completing an initial index of my system. Once this was done, performance was back to normal.

Once I was using my Mac normally once again, I found little to initially impress me. In fact the only noticeable differences were slight graphical changes to the icon dock and the addition of the notifications bar, an import from iOS which collates notifications from various apps and puts them all in an easily accessible place.

OS X Mountain Lion Running on a MacBook Pro
OS X Mountain Lion Running on a MacBook Pro

I’m not massively sold on the idea of notifications as part of a computer operating system, but I have grown used to seeing the subject line of new emails popping up in the corner of my screen. Outlook on Windows used to do this and it is a useful timesaver. Beyond this, however, I have felt no need to click the notifications button. Still, it’s there, it doesn’t bother me and I have noticed no performance implication.

Performance

On the subject of performance, I can subjectively say that the overall “snappiness” of my system seems slightly improved compared to OS X Lion – things certainly haven’t got any worse. Boot time may be slightly faster, but it’s still not back to Snow Leopard standards. I accept that a clean install would probably change this, but have neither the time nor inclination to do this now.

New Features

In terms of additional features, there’s little that has jumped out at me to date, although I do, of course, know about the numerous subtle enhancements. I am aware that Safari has had a substantial upgrade, so I did switch all my browsing over to it for a day or two – but, as I type, I am back with Google Chrome as I adore its fast simplicity.

One feature that has truly wowed me it is the new Apple dictation facility. Having had horrible experiences with systems such as DragonDictate, I didn’t expect much from it. However, it has delivered almost 100% accuracy every time I’ve tried it. Now all I need to do is get used of forming my thoughts so that I can actually dictate into my computer without getting flustered. Once I do, I can see myself making plenty of use of this feature.

As I said at the start of this review, my move to Mountain Lion was less about trying out every tiny new feature and more about how the upgrade might improve my day-to-day experience on my Mac. With this criteria in mind, my upgrade experience is favourable if not particularly exciting.

Conclusion

While I’m aware of other features that I may eventually use, such as Twitter integration and AirPlay, for now I am simply satisfied that I did the right thing by upgrading. Apple seem to have the first iteration of Mountain Lion right, which makes me look forward to the gradual improvements across subsequent revisions.

While Mountain Lion may not be an essential upgrade, it’s certainly not one to be unduly wary of.

iPhone app review: Checkmark

iOS’s built-in Reminders app is pretty good, but not great. The location-based reminders are a bit time-consuming to set up and the whole app is pretty basic and doesn’t offer up a whole lot of features. Checkmark, on the other hand, is an extremely intuitive reminders app that takes location-based reminders to a completely new level.

First off, it’s extremely easy to set up any kind of reminder in Checkmark, and there’s two kinds of reminders you can set for yourself: “When” and “Where.” When, for time-based reminders, and Where, for location-based reminders. You switch between the two using When and Where buttons at the bottom of the screen.

For “Where” reminders (location-based), you just add your most visited locations on the home screen, like work, home, the grocery store, your parents’ house, the bank, etc. You can add a location multiple different ways: By using your current location, searching for a point of interest, importing an address from your Contacts, or manually entering an address. You can also choose a radius of a location, so that notifications will alert you within a certain distance that you specify. I found the radius feature to be extremely helpful, since I was able to know far in advance that I needed to pick up a few things from the grocery store before I got near it.

After you add a location, tap on it to add a location-based reminder for that specific place. The next time you arrive there or pass by, you’ll get a notification reminding you of the task you need to get done at that specific location. Any location you add will automatically be saved to the app’s homescreen for future use.

“When” reminders are a little more basic. When creating a reminder, you simply enter in a title (and some notes about the reminder if you wish) and choose the day and time that you want to be alerted. When it’s time for the reminder to be delivered, you get a notification.

There are also other small features that can be really handy for a lot of users. You can sort your location-based reminders by distance, and even delay notifications until after you’ve been at a location for a certain amount of time.

The only downside that I see with Checkmark is its lack of integration with iOS and OS X. Checkmark is only available on the iPhone, so there’s no syncing between multiple devices. Checkmark also doesn’t integrate with Siri, so you can’t just quickly add a reminder in Checkmark using Apple’s virtual assistant.

However, Checkmark’s location-based reminder system is leaps and bounds above Apple’s offering, and I’ll gladly take that over any kind of integration with Apple’s ecosystem.

Checkmark is available in the iTunes App Store for $2.99.

Google’s Awesome Sauce: The Nexus 7 Tablet Review

Google has been doing impressive things lately, by anyone’s standards. Google Glasses, and the awesome live streaming skydiving stunt Google pulled at Google I/O this year blew the minds of fans all over the world.

At that same conference, Google announced the release of two Nexus devices: the (Asus) Google Nexus 7 tablet and the Nexus Q.  (The Q is sexy, smooth, different, and just about useless to the average consumer. It’s an expensive media streamer for your TV.)

Let’s get down to the Nexus 7. My Nexus 7 device arrived last week, which was very fast compared to what I’ve read about shipping times on the internet. I was stoked.

About the reported packaging problems

Some people have reported that it is difficult to remove the Nexus 7 from its original packaging.

Unlike the rest of the world, I believe when expensive electronics are shipped halfway across the country, if not the world, they should be packaged in such a way that they do not fall out or easily get stolen. Therefore, I bring a knife when I attempt to open a new product, unlike these ridiculous people.

Yes, the packaging of the Nexus 7 is tight. No, the packaging of the Nexus 7 should not deter you from purchasing one.

 

Awesome-Sauce Software with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean

As the first device shipping with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, I can say that this is the most beautiful and “buttery” smooth Android tablet I have ever used, and is as good as the iPad 3. Google has definitely done a bang-up job on Jelly Bean and Project Butter to get Android finally caught up to iOS as far as smoothness goes.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean includes Google Now, which is software that can anticipate your schedule and location throughout the day and provide helpful information like traffic time, current weather, and upcoming calendar events. No input is needed – Google Now helps you throughout the day without any prompting.

Since getting Google Now, I’ve used it way more than I ever used any previous voice search feature on a phone (including iPhone’s Siri).

Switching between recent apps is a great experience, and I find myself doing it just for the fun of playing the animations over and over again. Transitions are fast and responsive. Apps open and close quickly so your tablet can finally be as productive as you are!

The default Chrome browser is very impressive, with great loading speeds (over a decent WiFi connection), fast renders, and good support for HTML5 (finally).

Using apps on Android can finally be fun, not the chore it used to be with laggy and slow-loading apps of yesteryear. Congrats Google!

Hardware: Quad Core and a Brilliant Screen

The Nexus 7 did not fall short on hardware or design. With a quad core Tegra 3 on board and a brilliant graphics processor, apps on this device look better than any other Android tablet device I’ve seen, including the Asus Transformer Prime. While playing Dead Trigger (a great zombie shooter), this tablet becomes a hardcore gaming device in a perfectly sized 7-inch form factor. The screen really shines and shows just how incredible technology is becoming.

What makes this device nice to hold is that just-right thickness that makes it feel like it won’t break or fall out of your hands, but also fits great in your pocket. The soft-touch plastic on the back really adds grip to the device as well, so you won’t be dropping this thing any time soon.

Unbeatable Price Tag

$200 bucks. That’s all I need to say here. If you haven’t jumped on a tablet yet, or are looking for that second or even third screen, this is the best Android tablet on the market today. Period.

The Nexus 7 can be purchased directly from Google.

Review: Eye-Fi Mobile X2 wireless memory card

If you’ve ever wanted your photos from your digital camera to be automatically uploaded to your computer right after you’ve taken them, Eye-Fi’s line of products aim to do just that. I was able to get a hold of the Eye-Fi Mobile X2 model, which advertises the ability to not only upload photos directly to your computer, but also directly to your mobile devices.

Let’s take a look!

The installation process (at least on a Mac) was pretty time consuming. From the time I plugged in the reader until the time I could actually use it was about ten minutes. That’s borderline unacceptable for such a simple piece of hardware.

On top of that, the interface was a little sluggish. After I took a photo, it took about 10 seconds for it to notify me on my computer that it was uploading. Then it took another 10 or so seconds for it to show up in the Eye-Fi software. A 20-second lag time is pretty disappointing, especially if you’re using an Eye-Fi for time-sensitive purposes.

Overall, the user interface isn’t as intuitive as it should be. I know that Eye-Fi wants its users to use their software to manage the photos that you take with it, but honestly, it would make the entire process a lot easier if you could just simply take a photo and the folder just pops up on your desktop with your photo in it. They could even create a setting where the photo pops up full screen on the monitor right after the photo is taken. This would be great for photographers working in a studio (although, they would most likely be working with way better equipment and software anyway).

The Mobile X2 model comes standard with a feature called Direct Mode, which allows you to automatically upload photos from your camera to your mobile devices. I found this to be a lot better than the computer software as far as simplicity and intuitiveness, and photos upload a lot quicker. You’ll have to download the free Eye-Fi app, but from there it’s pretty much smooth sailing. Direct Mode is perfect for when you want to share a photo over Facebook or Twitter while you’re out and about, but are wanting a little more quality out of your photos than what your smartphone’s camera offers.

There’s a small caveat you should know, though: Your camera’s battery life takes a hit when you use the Eye-Fi card. It isn’t terrible, but I definitely noticed the battery draining faster than it would normally. Also, the card reader’s physical size is really wide and won’t fit into a USB port that has something plugged in next to it.

The concept of the Eye-Fi series is a great one and I think after a little bit of improvement to the software, they’ll nail it. However, at $80, one will have to think long and hard about whether automatically uploading photos to your computer is worth the extra money, even if the functionality was solid.

The Asus Eee Slate with Windows 7: A Tablet Computer on Steroids

I had been lusting for a tablet computer for quite some time. And no, I didn’t want one of those tiny, feature-limited Apple or Android tablets with a 6” screen and far too many smartphone similarities. I wanted the real deal: a 12”- 14” portable computer with full touch capabilities, an absurd amount of RAM and CPU power, and an operating system that can do just about anything. That’s right, I required a tablet on steroids.

When Asus came out with the EP121 Eee Slate with Windows 7 Home Premium and a Core i5 CPU, I thought to myself, “Maybe this is the Barry Bonds of tablet PCs that I have been looking for.” So I marched on down to my local Microsoft Store (yes, they do exist) and procured one for myself.

The Unboxing

*XBox 360 sold separately

In case you were curious, this is what Asus gives you in exchange for $1,200.00 (not including the Xbox 360). Yes, $1,200 is asking a lot considering one can get an iPad 2 for $499 or a Motorola XOOM for $199, but once again: I wanted a tablet that could hit 600 home runs in a season and bench press an entire church choir.

As the picture above shows us, besides the standard power supply Asus also supplies a Microsoft 6000 Bluetooth keyboard, a digital stylus pen with spare nibs (or in layman’s terms, the little plastic tip on the stylus pen that touches the screen), and a leather carrying case/easel to secure/prop-up the tablet PC for any level of ergonomic usage. All in all, plenty of accessories to get one’s tablet usage to a pleasant rolling start.

Hardware

Please excuse the plaid

The Asus EP121 is a 12.1” tablet with two USB 2.0 ports, a mini HDMI port, a 2 megapixel webcam, a headphone jack, a power button a virtual keyboard toggle button, an SD card reader slot, and a little hole to manually reset the device. The screen is a capacitive LED multi-touch 1280 x 800 display that works with both a pen and a human finger. Overall, the device weighs about 2.56 pounds, or rather the equivalent weight of a half-gallon of milk (if that helps at all). If one is concerned with lap burn from the device, be at ease. The device runs pleasingly cool and can be held for extended periods of time without any notion of heat transfer.

On the inside, the EP121 contains an Intel quad-core i5 CPU at 1.33 GHz, with the potential to be overclocked up to 1.86 GHz (if one is willing to tweak it). This CPU combined with the 4 GB of DDR3 RAM allows the EP121 to run Windows 7 at impressive speeds, allowing a cold boot to occur in 8-12 seconds (boot times may vary). The SSD hard drive allows for fast file accessing and writing, but is limited to 64 GB in size; those of us who want to store our 360,000 pictures of dogs in silly costumes might have to split our photo storage with an external device. Oh, and it has an integrated graphics card as well, which can easily handle some of the videogames out on the market today (I’ve heard that Civilization 5 works well with this tablet’s touch interface).

The battery is a 4 cell lithium-ion 34 W/h module that can be fully charged in less than 8 hours. Of course, the smaller battery combined with the beefy hardware mean that this guy has a short lifespan: about three hours to be exact. But really, when you’re dealing with high-powered internal components running a full-blown operating system like Windows 7, one cannot entirely complain. It’s a major drawback, but easy to overcome by just bringing the power cable along.

Software

The EP121 is running a 64-Bit Windows 7 Home-Premium with Wacom tablet digitizer software to allow one’s finger to do all sorts of beautiful touching and multi-touching. With that in mind, though, it is clear that Windows 7 was not designed specifically for tablets in mind, since finger touches to small check boxes and drop down menus can take a few hits to select. This of course can be solved by trying to recalibrate the screen or by using the stylus, but it would be nice to have more precision already there. To speed up one’s touch usage, I highly recommend learning the “flicks” touchscreen shortcuts that Windows 7 uses to move forward, backward, up, and down a page.

Using standard applications with the touch-based operating system seemed fine, and really the only issues I found was Chrome and Firefox do not allow for finger scrolling on webpages. After some digging a solution was found (more specifically, see: Chrometouch and Grab and Drag for Firefox).

For the graphic artists out there, the RAM and CPU of this tablet more than satisfy the performance beasts known as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, and to date I have seen no issues working with them. The stylus pen does wonders for photo editing and graphics design, and when paired with the Bluetooth keyboard makes editing fast and precise.

The virtual keyboard included with Windows 7 is quite user-friendly and reliable. I have seen instances where the virtual keyboard will be stubborn and not appear when summoned, but fortunately that can be remedied by pressing the physical “keyboard” button on the top of the device. I also have seen issues with the physical Bluetooth keyboard being unresponsive with the EP121’s Bluetooth module, but it is a rare occurrence. Besides that, both methods provide ample QWERTY goodness and enhance the overall non-laptop experience.

If you prefer to actually write out everything, the handwriting tool built into the virtual keyboard can be used as well. I was surprised that it could figure out my abominable chicken-scratch handwriting and convert my written words to text – a nice bonus to the text input options.

I get easily distracted when I take notes...

A step above the simple handwriting interface is the Microsoft application called OneNote, which comes extremely in handy for scribbling notes and collecting thoughts. When linked to your Windows Live account, these virtual notes and scribbles can be pushed into the cloud for continual availability to revise and update. With OneNote, the EP121 goes beyond the realm of a computer to become a notebook, a stetchbook, and even to-do list.

Conclusion

So did the Asus EP121 with its massive CPU and RAM power and full Windows 7 touch capabilities live up to my figurative steroid enhancing expectations? The short answer is absolutely yes. Its fast, touch-friendly, and perfect for doing just about anything tablet related.

The long answer? Yes it is a fantastic tablet, but that honor comes with a signature “Barry Bonds Hall of Fame Asterisk” attached. If one looks at the current state of the Windows 7 based tablet PC market (which according to a Newegg search contains a total of five other competitors, none of which have an i5 Processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, or a 64-bit architecture), the over-powered Asus EP121 obviously stands out in its class. But that is like trying to argue that a middle school boy who hit puberty before his classmates is the best hitter in baseball. So what I’m trying to get at is this: until a slew of newer, higher performance tablets enter the market (which will most likely happen with the eventual release of the tablet friendly Windows 8), it is hard to say if the EP121 is truly the best.

But until that day comes, I’d just go with my short answer.